"Lies, Hurt-Sponges and Planet Carla" by Dan J. Kidd
All people lie to themselves, in some way, trust me.
My friend Jerry tells people he never finished his masters at Villanova because his dad passed away half way through and he got so depressed that he could not even get out of bed to go to class, most days. That's about all he tells people about it and all he has, for years.
It is sad that Jerry lost his dad, he was a cool guy. And it affected the son deeply, sure. But the real reason Jerry dropped out of the graduate program--the prime mover as I understand the meaning of that phrase--was that Jerry was a drunk. And I mean not just a zany, fun-loving, beer-pounding, harmlessly outrageous rascal, like so many of us were at times. I mean he has always been a fall-down, blackout-drinking, shit-don't-bring-that-guy to-the-party, get-some-help-man, drunk. A real alcoholic, and bad.
Jerry had been that in ever-worsening stages since we were freshmen together at St. Lucia of the Mountain High School up in Kepatchee. He continued being a hopeless drunk through all 4 undergrad years at the College of William and Mary He is one of the brightest guys I ever met, a lot more of an intellectual than me. But he was put on academic probation twice at William and Mary and even caught a DUI and destruction of property case his junior year there. Campus Security called the real police when they observed Jerry's Chevy Blazer doing reverse donuts and figure 8's for a full 20 minutes right on the main quad in front of the Dean of Arts and Sciences building. It was a warm May night and they had just gotten a very heavy rain down there and old Jerry's oversized all-seasons really tore into the school's showpiece lawn, gobs of mud and huge swaths of green grass kicking up everywhere. 'Flying carpet samples, man!' Jerry said, over gin and tonics at Chi Chi's Mexican Restaurant that summer. Jerry was very witty.
Come to think of it, that last part's not true or the second to last part, rather. That night at Chi Chi's, there was me, Tommy Morrison, Andy Dade and this girl Sasha he was banging and all of us but Jerry were just drinking sodas and eating appetizers, no booze though. I know we met during the week to catch up and we all had jobs to be accountable to in the morning. Our sense of adulthood was galvanizing, maybe.
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I don't think Jerry was working much, maybe part time. He has had a lot of jobs and a lot of really varied types of jobs, mostly shitty ones though and the one's that were not too shitty, he never got on his own. A few of us have pulled strings a few times to get Jerry decent employment but back then we had no strings to pull. But he must have had like 5 Tanqueray and tonics at the table and that is just what I saw and he never ate a bite of food. I remember nervously paying my share of the bill before the waiter even got to our table with it.
Funny what you remember. Funny how we remember, sometimes.
I recall making up a lie that Meg was mad at me for having to work the weekend of her cousin's wedding and so I had to eat and run. That's the ticket. 'You know I'm already in the dog house with her, so I need to bolt way early.' Yeah, I probably did say some corny, weak shit like that. I was young.
But the real reason I hustled out of Chi Chi's so fast that night was that when I popped up from our corner booth and started for the men's room in the other part of the restaurant to piss, I glanced over at the bar and there was Jerry. He had at least 4 emptied shot glasses in front of him and was waving a wad of cash at this pretty little Latin bartender, screaming something. I don't know what but with Jerry in his cups, it could have been anything. The little bartender looked concerned and confused but not really scared or anything.
What happened then was one of the animal-looking spanish guys from the kitchen came out and went behind the bar and said something to the cutie slinging drinks and then she went into the kitchen without a word. The guy looked tough, really tough. Sorta short and stocky but hard and fearless. Mean-looking. Or maybe not mean as much as crazy.
Anyway, he pushed his wide, muscular chest out and threw his shoulders back and had this unsettling glare fixed on tall, sloppy Jerry. He was almost looking through Jerry with those dark, wild eyes.
This little Latin dude with the eyes, he also had these huge brown forearms, powerful boy. And the way he rooster strutted and paced behind the bar made me think of a Latin Popeye the Sailor for a second. I don't guess that is funny, just true and what is even more true and less humorous is that this little motherfucker, he did not give a fuck. About shit. You could tell. He did not care if you were rich or poor. He did not care if you were big or small, drunk or sober. He did not care if you knew Karate or your dad was mayor or you wore a badge, he was that type. And our dude most especially did not give a single fuck if you were a feckless, overprivileged white-boy college fuck who had never done a year of really hard work in his puta life or even paid his own car loan or food bill, yet. In all cases, this guy would fuck you up, with malice. It seemed likely that he was very close to offering that same equality of brutalization to drunk Jerry.
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Wish I knew what Jerry had said to get him so pissed. Anyway, this bristling tan fireplug looked like he wanted to bash or kill Jerry right where he wobbled and that is the real reason I was taking off early, not Meghan. It was Jerry being a terrible drunk and related ongoing trouble that made me disappear so quickly. An embarrassing liability and a burgeoning danger, he was. What could I do?
I will tell you again though, it is not just Jerry. We are all liars on some things and that means both to ourselves and others.
Funny but then a lot of people who love you, they will lie right back at you by pretending to believe the lie you are promoting. And over time, the lie evolves or mutates into something more. It does not ever become truth exactly but maybe the agreed upon lie almost gives people permission to feel like it is the truth. In this way, it smells better and seems more consumable.
We all add to it, too. Most times we all lend to each other's lies, it's just easier I guess.
Hell, 18 years later Jerry's wife still puts on this dramatic mask of sympathy when the topic of Jerry failing out of Grad school comes up. "Oh, Gerald. You know you coulda made it through Villanova, you are brilliant. You really almost did, anyway, in a way. You almost really did get your masters, I mean, for all intents and purposes. What were you, like 5 classes away? Didn't you already have your thesis paper planned, sort of? I know you had some great ideas, you told me. It was losing your dad, Jerry. I mean, that is enough to break anyone. Poor baby. You had a right to feel sad, you loved your dad. We all have a right to feel our feelings." Wow.
It's nice that Linda is so supportive, don't get me wrong. But see, it's a lie. Jerry was not making it to his classes at Villanova--not reliably anyway--and that had been the case from day one. His drinking had gotten even worse and he was doomed to flunk out of grad school way before his dad died, I'm telling you. I know because he would call me drunk at least twice a week, sometimes in the morning and tell me as much. "Dude, the bars down here are fucking sick, dude. You gotta come down soon. I am like fucking out of my mind every night but I can't get my ass to any of my classes except for the two afternoon seminars. Oh hey, I finally got that new tatt I was obsessing over, remember?"
Jerry sticks with his lie though, I'll say that for him. Then, now and maybe forever. He believes it himself at this point, I am pretty sure. It has taken on a power of sorts and it routes his thoughts around the school failure, I think. I can't say for sure but I can reasonably guess that he thinks like 'Man, if it weren't for my dad having that aneurysm out of nowhere and me getting depressed, I'd have finished up at Villanova and by now I'd be kicking ass as a senior architecht or Project Director at a good firm or maybe
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even have my own consulting company. But I guess we cannot control or plan some things in life and some things are not our fault.'
If my friend Jerry does think along those lines, then I would say he is broadly correct. We cannot plan for everything and not everything is our fault. But specifically, as it applies to him and his flopping out of Villanova like that? Well, it doesn't. See, he would not have finished at that school or done much more than he has in life had his dad lived to be 150 years old. The reason is that Jerry was a drunk, as bad as one can get and drunks can't do shit because they are always drunk, that's all.
But the lie, it is now his legend. It is a big part of what defines him. It is heard-tell of all over and so the people around Jerry just nod and agree to it which sorta makes liars out of them, too. Their assent to the lie is sorta like collateral damage that originates from Jerry's drop-out lie, let's say. So all he gets is poor Jerry and your poor dad and the Villanova victim rap and everyone's comforted but stuck and I guess that's the deal that's made.
I remember too this woman at my first office, Carla Falluci. Nice gal. Not very educated but a very sharp lady in her own way. I remember she had a sixth-sense-knack for technology and really could have been more than the Assistant Procurement Manager. She'd learned this new supply chain software I'd purchased for the company faster than I did and I went to school for this stuff, it's not easy. It took her team forever to get the hang of it but it was like saying her ABC's to her. Yeah, Carla was a bright woman, no question. I also remember her as a kind and caring person and a good mom, always doing for her kids. No husband around though, not that I cared. Not my business. She loved the Seattle SeaHawks, that's also true.
Carla was fat, I should just say it. If I am honest, that is really the first thing that bursts to mind if I think of her those many years ago. And I mean REALLY big, pushing four bills. She was almost like whoa, double-take fat. She was enormous, ok? That's enough, I don't want to belittle anyone but it's important to my point that her gargantuan size is understood.
Anyway, Carla did the same as Jerry, she lied--except about a different topic. Carla could apparently not bear saying the plain and simple truth about why she was so heavy and I am being kind here, remember.
Carla often lamented her weight issue pretty publicly to me and a few other employees in the office. She seemed to adopt this very matter-of-fact air about her obesity and how it made her look. She often referred to herself as 'Planet Carla' and purposely pointed out that she had to sit in this sorta extra-reinforced double-wide office chair she had gotten online, special order. She called it 'Space Station Carla.'
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It is hard for me to say exactly what I mean here but I want to say she sorta faked being so straight-forward about her size. It was not real. It was really an act or ruse or something and I think she did it both to reinforce her lie and to try to alter perception about her and her weight before others made their own negative judgements. Again, Carla was smart, for sure. Smart and huge.
But it was not her fault, she said. "I joke around about it, you guys know me. We have to laugh in life, what else is there? I love having fun. Plus, I am a very honest person, I call a spade a spade and I am one super-sized spade, that's me! But I also need to remind myself sometimes and be like 'Hey, Carla, it's not like all your 'fault' ver se." She meant 'per se' but always got it wrong and said "ver se." I can see big Carla now, leaning back in her great, steel-girded, love-seat-office chair, making 'ver se' air quotes and breathing heavy.
Carla's story was that there was nothing she could do about her weight aside from surgery and God knows she couldn't afford that. She'd been to all the doctors in the world and was on every diet known to man since she was a teenager and had spent thousands on gym memberships in her life, too. Carla liked to say she had "worn the tread off of many a tread mill." But she would not ever lose more than a few meager pounds because of metabolism. That was the problem, metabolism. It was a perplexing genetic condition the doctors weren't sure about but a real thing, not made up. She even said she had documentation.
But Carla would never would give you specifics when you asked and I asked. She'd stick with the same vague answers everytime, though. Metabolism. That was all there was to it, she said. The doctors told her she had a bad metabolism and her genetics made it all a done deal, so eating way less and obsessing over carbs, fats, sodium and sugars and exercise would basically be pointless. As hopeless as her case is, she's a trooper and still tries. 'Never give up,' that was Carla's motto. Plus, she's an Aries and you know how stubborn that makes her. Even though she has no control over her weight, she puts tons of work in. She still totally eats like a skinny bitch, she says. "You should see my cupboard at home, all rice cakes, fruit and tofu. I mean, what am I--a big Chinese hamster? Haha, I need to stop!" Poor Carla.
Yes, I suspected she was being self-excusing and not fully honest but who am I? No one to judge, that's who. I am no doctor or nutritionist either, that's for damn sure. Maybe she really was victim of bad metabolism and predestined genetics, I told myself. I am here to work, anyway, not investigate Carla's cupboard. Live and let live, I say.
Thing is, one day Carla's younger sister came into the office unannounced. I know what you are thinking, no she was not big like Carla. She actually had a pretty great body. She should have, I guess, she was always coming from or going to the gym from what I remember and the rumor was she used to strip at
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one of the little joints on Fate Street. But Carla and her younger sister did not get along at all, that’s for sure.
So, late one afternoon, the hot-bodied stripping sister came in and got into this very explosive argument right at Carl’s desk. It was one of the worst of it's kind I have had to witness. Cutting and acerbic is what it was. So much bitterness in it. It was demoralizing even to watch. Siblings really can mince each other up, ever notice? Carla was getting her licks in too but at least was playing within civilized limits. She kept trying to talk in hushed tones and keep an even keel to some degree. Not her sister, no sir. Her sister was loud and I mean really loud. And her vibe was like, ghetto. Carla's sister may have had a body on her but she was about as mean as they come.
"Whatever, Carla, ok?! WHAT-EVV-ERR! You go ahead and keep telling yourself and all these nice people that you are fucking 389 pounds because of metabolism. We all believe you, I am sooo sure! Yeah, I found your 4 empty Big Mac cartons behind the seat in the truck yesterday, Carla. And the empty french fry containers. I found the receipt too dipshit, it was all one order and dated yesterday, so don't try bullshit with me! Your baby daddy had the boys and I for damn sure don't eat that crap, look at this body. So who did it Carla? Who got all that piggy food? Tell us! The cats? Did the kitties eat all those greasy burgers and fries, Carla? Did Miss Prowler and Queenie Cat take the truck down to McDonald's and hit the drive-through window yesterday? Is that what happened? Hardy Harr Harr! BUSTED! And I don't care if they do hear me, they should. You got more money from mom's house when she passed and look at you!! It's not fair!! Fancy-schmancy office job, so what? You're not smarter than everyone Carla, just remember. You think everyone's dumb, Miss Smarty Pants? Four Big Macs in one sitting and all those greasy fries and the pecan pies you hide under your bed, Carla. That's why you're so fat and why Derek left you. Period! It's not metabolism!"
Poor Carla, I mean it this time. What a rough day. It’s not like we were close but she was a nice lady from what I knew and a great employee. Carla. The poor thing imploded that day, though and I cannot blame her. Her whole body sorta collapsed inward on itself and she covered her entire face with her hands, right where she sat in Space Station Carla. Then she started sobbing, God it was bad. It started out sorta soft and then got louder and louder. Then it would sorta die down and get pretty quiet for about half a minute and when you thought it is over, it was not. After a bit, she would be full-on wailing again, loud as ever. God I hate those situations.
Thankfully, after a couple of minutes of this someone got our GM, Don Flaherty. Don could be a hard-ass but that was just part of him. He was also a really good guy, old school. So, it was a huge relief when I saw Don steaming out from his back office in a hurry with the sleeves of his rumpled blue oxford shirt rolled up to his elbows, red-faced and outraged. He still had his reading glasses on, riding low on the bridge of his nose and he swooped back a shaggy swath of his salt and pepper hair as he made his final, determined descent. Classic Don Flaherty.
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Don did not have to talk much, his appearance did most of the work for him. His shoulders were back and his chest out, strong. The veins in his old 53 year old ex-hockey player’s neck bulged, rippling against his undersized collar. He had a natural air of authority via unintentional intimidation that cannot really be taught in management classes, it’s either in you or it is not in you. A lot of it was in Don always but even more so that morning as he naturally took control of the situation.
Don was all business and did not ask questions. He did not attempt a judicial approach nor pretend to be ready to placate or entertain explanation or be ‘nice’. Instead, he leveled his narrowing eyes on Carla’s sister, employing them like two bright blue lasers, the bitch-killing kind. Everyone in the office had seen him explode more than a few times but this was the scariest he’d ever been because he was being so quiet. We all knew he was just wrangling the tempest of rage he harbored, just underneath. But this attempt at control merely concentrated it.
The great man took a long breath and said his piece to Carla’s horrible sister and as he did, Don’s speech became an unsettling, metered, low grumble-gasp, nearly a whisper and we all tried pretending that we were working every one of us was strainging to hear Don, our guy. The people's champion, really.
"Young lady, you’d better get me the first time because I am giving no second chances today. None. Remember, I said that no matter what else, ok?”
Carla’s sister’s eyes widened and I could see her looking up at Don and slowly nod her head at him.
"What’s going to happen is that you are not going to look at or talk to your sister or any other of my employees, anymore today. I mean not so much as rolling your goddamned eyes in anyone’s direction. I don’t want to hear a goddamned sigh or whisper from you to Carla or anyone else in this office as you leave. And miss, you are leaving, now. You are going to turn around, walk to the parking lot and go directly to your car. You will then drive away and not ever set foot on this property or my office again. Ever. That’s how it is going to be. I will give you 60 seconds to get the hell out of here and sweetheart and don’t test me. I make you God’s own promise that if you are still anywhere on property after that one minute, that there will be no more words from me to you. I’ll just call my good friend Sherriff Rolf and he’ll be glad to help me press charges. I’ll make it a pet project to see you in trouble, I promise. And if you think I’m shittin’ you kid, just TRY ME! Now get the hell out of here. NOW!”
Man, Don was so mad that he was shaking which made Carla’s sister quiver in responsive fear, I could see her knees sort of knocking together a little. She was terrified, so much so that her eyes were also tearing up as she wordlessly did followed instructions and made her way out through the front lobby
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and to the exit, in full gallop. About 30 seconds later, we heard tires screech as she peeled out of front lot as fast as she could. Thank God for old Don. He really was something.
After Carla’s sister fled, Don told Carla he was sorry and that she could take the rest of the day off with pay, if she liked. Then he turned and yelled ‘Everyone back to work, no busybodies!’ and trundled back to his office. What a great guy, he was.
Then, Frannie and Kristen flew over to Carla's desk with a box of kleenex and she hiccupped and cried very softly for a bit as Frannie rubbed her back and said ‘Aww, hun. Hun, hun, it’s ok now hun. It’s over now, don’t worry.” It was over. But I felt bad, boy I did. I felt really sad for Carla and hated her sister, that no-class bitch. I also felt a little sick, vaguely useless and uncomfortable. That is the word, extremely uncomfortable.
All that being said, is it also ok to point out that Carla's evil sister was also ultimately right about the cause of Carla's obesity and her lie? I mean, I am not callous in doing so, I don't think. Am I? It's just me getting back to the original point here about every one of us lying to ourselves in some way, about one thing or another.
I guess it is because some things are too painful to look at head on and detail. Some of life's realities are so painful, they sort of soak up all the hurt like sponges. Hurt-sponges, there ya go. For Jerry it was failing out of school, for Carla it was admitting she caused her own obesity, not metabolism. Her sister sucks, it's true but she was at least being honest in that. She was telling a basic truth. In this, she carried the truth and Carla did not, could not. That truth is too heavy for Carla and she may never be able to shoulder it, there's no telling.
I haven't seen ole Carla in 15 years or so. I do hope she is ok, really. I hope she told some truth, lost a lot of weight and is now buying her rolling office chairs ready-made at Staples like everyone else.
I don't know. We all do it, we all lie to ourselves about something, like I keep saying. Believe that, man. We do. I have too. I wonder if I even know what my hurt-sponges may be or if I will ever find them and ring the damn things out, bleach them good too. I could wake up tomorrow and make a list of three big lies I have told myself and then go around like a madman, admitting to everyone I meet the real deal about them--the simple, precise and almost mathematical truth. I could do that. I should. I will do that! I ought to do that, right? I may or may not though, come tomorrow. I could tell you I did, tomorrow night maybe. But you never know, maybe I'll be lying. How would you know? The answer is, you wouldn't or maybe you would just be too nice to call me out on it.
Dan Kidd is an author with a storied past and he’d like to tell them to you. Born outside of Boston MA, Kidd double-majored in history and government at Boston College (1994-1995) before transferring to Georgetown University, Washington, DC (1995-1998) where his focus shifted to International Law and Diplomacy. His yesteryears include extensive travel to the Europe, the middle east and N. Africa A ‘born writer’, Dan Kidd notes that writing is ‘pure’ to him because it is the one transcendent ability that’s been with him since early youth and remains close to his heart today. Dan remains passionate about inventing good stories and developing nuanced, realistic characters who are often absurd, sometimes funny, often sad but always relatable. Dan’s past-experience in creating and writing for his own original comedic characters and performing these in live improv has honed his ability to write real people for real people to read. Forging his own experiences with whole-cloth creative fabrication (or as Dan calls it, ‘bullshit’), Dan refuses to be pinned down by writing in one genre or form and would rather leave room for his reader’s input.